The first guy I met there got nabbed as the serial rapist in this town not long after. He sat on the steps across the street and looked out as the evening lights kept cars running up and down and both ways through our intersection here, like ants under the midday sun.
Then there was Houma. Of course that wasn’t his given name, but I can rarely remember details like names. There are more suitable things to call people in the privacy of your own mind and that’s where he said he was from, so that’s what I called him. He’d see me in the corner of my wide front porch as he came out onto the front steps of his house to smoke. He would smile real big and wave at me and come jogging my way and into the yard and up onto my porch, talking just nonstop in that accent thicker than the Louisiana air he was born into. The way he chatted and glanced at you sideways with that smile after saying something you could tell he thought you would like, you never could trust him to speak truth to you without some tailored-to-you extras attached, just for flair. You had to like him though. He sat in the porch rocking chair beside me like he had known me since we were kids, said he borrowed money from his “Babeh” one day and asked her her favorite color. She said blue, so he got her name on his neck that day and airbrushed all in blue around the cursive black letters. He told me another day when I pulled up in front of the house, that he had just burnt up his car and the tools he had borrowed from my husband with it. The look of surprise on his face overcame the usual enthusiasm he wore, but even so, I didn’t believe a word of it. As he talked I didn’t quite listen and instead mentally made plans to stop by the pawn shop across the tracks on my next trip into downtown to look for them. I then glanced across the street and at the same time caught the end of his story and, indeed, there was the burnt shell of his GMC with some wetness underneath it testifying that what he had said was true, fire truck dousing it and all. The heavy plastic toolbox I had bought my husband for Christmas a few months before was melted into itself in the backseat. He moved out into a trailer with his “Babeh” a few months later, and my husband helped him carry some furniture out.
There was the gal who wanted to make a little home there I could tell, but the meth had rotted the teeth out of her head and the sense right out with them. The only time I’ve ever been afraid to get out of my car when I’ve pulled up in front of my house was when some fellow meth users were standing at their car parked where I usually park. I pulled in behind them, they tried to stare me away. I stupidly, stubbornly held my ground and got out, shooed the kids into yard, and walked to my front door keeping the kids ahead of me as if I didn’t have a care in the world. The whole time my gut was yelling at me for getting out of the car in the first place, as it should have. She got behind on her rent or maybe she got caught dealing meth, who knows. She left, and while I liked her, I hated the presence of that drug on my street and was glad to see it and the people who used it go for good.
Next a quiet, thin older man moved in. He was up early, like me. After a smoke would bicycle off to work, and sometimes would get a ride. We never made eye contact, he seemed too weary and I too wary anyway after the last tenant of that place. But he did his thing day in and day out, even got taken away in an ambulance once and when he came back, he moved slower and walked bent over, holding onto things. He moved out one Sunday morning with some help and a few federal marshals showed up on my porch the next day, asking who he was with and what they drove and other such questions. He didn’t notify his PO of his change of plans I suppose, but as weary and slow as he looked, what did he have to lose at this point? I think he went home, wherever home was for him.
There may have been others in between, but the next regular presence on those front steps I can think of was Cowboy. He wore a hat and drove a truck, and he was likely still on paper too. He helped another tenant of that building when her car wouldn’t start with her baby in a carseat in the back. He occasionally gave a wave when my husband or I would drive by, and always left us our unofficial parking space in front of our house even when his was taken in front of his. We came home from being out of town for a few weeks, and he was gone. The cops were looking for him too was what I heard.
And lately there’s the Felon, and a guy I call Beach, and maybe another guy and another one, I’m not sure as the rest all look alike to me. The Felon knows my schedule as well as I know his if he pays any attention at all. When my light goes on first thing in the very front room upstairs and I open the shades to let the sunrise light in, he’s there on the steps with a cigarette lit in the semi-dark. These quiet early hours are my favorite ones on this side of town. They are like a secret cove I’ve discovered and sneak away to upon waking. I confess I share this view of the street with him a tiny bit begrudgingly these days, like you are disappointed when another hiker comes up to your hard earned vista after a long day of climbing but it’s theirs to enjoy too. So more than begrudging him, I find myself glad for this stranger to enjoy the peace. It’s some of the only quiet I get in my day, perhaps it is in his, too. It certainly is on the street.
I expect, of course, that he or any one of those guys will go on the run one of these days and another cop will show up with questions, and I still won’t know their right names let alone which way they went.
I can always tell when that day is getting close- they don’t sit outside anymore and I get my front porch and my early mornings all to myself again.
For the lonely, the lost, the leaving… will You bring them home?